An overly detailed biography that Lee’s die-hard fans will welcome.

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IS THAT ALL THERE IS?

THE STRANGE LIFE OF PEGGY LEE

The sad, troubled life of the popular jazz singer.

Peggy Lee (1920-2002), born Norma Deloris Egstrom, grew up in North Dakota, raised by an alcoholic father and mean stepmother. Yearning to be the center of attention, she wanted to be a movie star. By the time she was 15, she realized that her natural singing talent might get her out of the prairie. “She would have done anything to become famous,” a friend told music journalist Gavin (Deep in Dreams: The Long Night of Chet Baker, 2002, etc.). The author’s research is impressive: He has interviewed scores of people who knew Lee, worked with or for her, or witnessed her performances; he cites and assesses songs she recorded, performed and wrote; he follows her love affairs, however brief, and her four brief marriages. What he learns, however, proves repetitious: She was a vulnerable woman so frightened of performing that she downed a considerable amount of cognac before sweeping on stage; soon, alcohol was supplemented with Valium and Quaaludes. She was a demanding, selfish employer. She was deeply lonely. Her musicians, Gavin was told, “were her family….She kept them from leaving her after each show, which caused some problems with those who had wives or a life and didn’t want to hang out until the early morning hours.” On stage, she won praise for her “economy of movement.” She explained her stillness: “I just stood there because I was too scared to move.” She admired Billie Holiday, but the feeling was not mutual. She was a hypochondriac and a devotee of the Church of Religious Science, and she tried all manner of fad diets in an attempt to control her burgeoning weight. Her career had its ups and downs: Some of her songs—“Fever,” for example—made her famous, but some flopped.

An overly detailed biography that Lee’s die-hard fans will welcome.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1451641684

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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